Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pueblo, CO: Model train buffs rolling to rail fair

From Model train buffs rolling to rail fair
Whether gliding through majestic mountain landscapes or over intricate layouts in basements, these guys love to ride the rails.

The Pueblo Model Railroad Association is a group of enthusiasts who love model railroading as well as the real thing, relishing in the history of a time long passed.

They build their own amazingly intricate layouts, paying flawless attention to every detail of real-life rail lines and the trains that run on them. They gather for operating sessions that mimic real railroad trips. They support tourist railroads and enjoy riding on them, basking in the experience of the very things they recreate in their basements.

"It's similar to playing chess or bridge," Roger Otto said. "It's an intellectual challenge.

"I never had much use for history — until I discovered railroads."

The group's passion led it to establishing the 2011 Colorado Rail Fair, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at the Pueblo Convention Center. PMRA members hope it will be a big draw from throughout the region and promote model railroading and tourist trains for years to come.

"Pueblo has a rich history in railroad," Pueblo West resident John Denny said. "With the fair, we're trying to promote Pueblo as a hub for the tourist trains throughout Southern Colorado."

Several tourist trains will be represented at the fair and the group wants to tout Pueblo as a jumping-off point to railroads such as the Royal Gorge, Georgetown Loop, Cumbres & Toltec, Leadville Colorado & Southern, Durango & Silverton, Rio Grande Scenic, and Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge.

Model railroading will be a big element to the fair as well, with commercial vendors, trains and collectibles for sale and a local swap meet. Scale modules will be on display and operating, and the Pueblo Railroad Museum will offer caboose rides on its train out of the Pueblo Union Depot.

"We want to promote the hobby and the real thing," Denny said. "It's going to be more than just another model railroad swap meet."

With most of the PMRA being senior citizens, members also hope the fair will help infuse interest into an entire new generation of railroad enthusiasts.

"We wanted to do something to get more people involved," PMRA President Bill Shanaman of Sugar City said. "Model railroading relies on a person's imagination. It's very intellectual, very good for a child's imagination and it teaches a child a lot of different things. It's all in the way a person perceives it."

Gerald Long founded the PMRA in 1984. His son, Greg Long, serves as the club's secretary and Lance Hill is one of the few original members still actively involved.

Prospective members usually become involved by word of mouth or frequenting hobby shops or trade shows. The club currently has 17 members and three honorary members, and meets one Friday per month at one of the members' homes.

Members construct their own layouts and usually dedicate to a specific scale and railroad, such as the Colorado, Rio Grande or Santa Fe. Layouts usually recreate real-life lines, complete with the surrounding landscape in minute detail, that can consume entire basements. Some create their own layouts from scratch.

Everything is created by hand and the attention to detail is amazing, such as every tree or contour in the land being accurate to scale.

These guys are also technically savvy, making sure the trains run just like the real thing.

"If I'm a complete model railroader, I have to be a jack-of-all-trades," Otto said. "I have to know the electrical, carpentry, plumbing, mechanical — everything. There's a big artistic element to it as well.

"The detail is just fascinating with the technology they have now."

Model railroaders usually fall into camps based on scale. HO scale is 1/87th of real-life size and N scale is a miniscule 1/160th, comprising the two most popular scales.

Plenty of good-natured ribbing goes on between the loyalists of the two scales, and joking also abounds about the amount of money model railroaders spend on their hobby as well as what their wives think of their incessant tinkering with tiny trains.

Lines about the wives include, "Mine doesn't want anything to do with modeling, but if we're going to ride one, she's the first in line," and, "My wife actually paints my backdrops."

But there is a serious assessment to what wives and families think of the hobby as well.

"Wives are a really important part of this. They know how we love doing this and they're very supportive," Pueblo West resident Larry Todd said. "This is something that includes the families, particularly the kids and grandkids. They love it."

Denny said that for many years, the club would rent the parlor car on the Cumbres & Toltec and take all of the members' families along. There's a common love for rail travel, the relaxation and the incomparable views.

"There are a lot of different aspects to the hobby," Todd said. ‘‘Rail photography is a real neat aspect of the hobby, ‘chasing trains,’ ’’ Todd said. "It gets in your blood and you've got to go. You end up spending a lot of time in the mountains."

Operating sessions are possibly the biggest part of the club's activities. Almost every weekend, they gather at one member's home and run trains on that layout.

"We replicate what real trains do on a miniature scale," Denny said. "We operate like a real railroad with a full schedule, transfers, originating point, destination, cargo, everything."

Operating has taken on an entirely new scope in light of the advances made in model railroading. Rather than taking weeks to construct trains from kits and then constantly "fiddling" with them to ensure smooth operation, operators can simply take them out of the box straight to the track, often free of mechanical issues.

"The ready-to-run market is progressing each year," Denny said, noting significant advancements in the field made by the Japanese. "During the last 10 years or so, the hobby has seen a renaissance in detail, a rejuvenation because of the technology."

Despite the progression, PMRA members say the hobby is always ongoing. A layout is never truly complete, interests and curiosity are never fully satisfied, which is part of the beauty of model railroading.

"It takes a lifetime. It never ends because there's always something you can do," Shanaman said. "There's nothing like getting your hands on a train, running it and always looking for ways to make it better."

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested in getting a table for the Model Railroad show August 11,12.

    Michael Tonne